HUMANE Workshop, Wrap-up

On 21st of March, we held the HUMANE Intentional Workshop in Oxford. We had some 50+ participants from across different sectors; academia, industry, and public sectors, as well as technicians and freelancers. Among different events and workshops that I have attended in the recent years, I can easily say that our workshop was unique in terms of the wide range of topics, speakers, and attendees.

We started the day with a great keynote by David De Roure  from the Oxford e-Research Centre. David spoke about Social Machines and How to Study them. For me, the most thought-provoking part of David’s talk was his call to pay extra attention to the unanticipated and unpredictable outcomes of large assemblies of humans and machines.

We continued with a HUMANE presentation by Asbjørn Følstad, the project co-ordinator from SINTEF. Asbjørn explained how we built the HUMANE Typology and walked us through the HUMANE method. After that, Eric Meyer from the Oxford Internet Institute reviewed the existing literature on Human-Machine networks in a talk titled What’s Humane about Machines?. We closed the morning session with a talk by Vegard Engen of the IT Innovation Centre on Agency in Human-Machine Networks. Vegard’s focus was on the impact of both humans and machines’ agency on trust and user behaviour.

Then we had the lunch break!

We kicked off the afternoon session with a talk by Eva Jaho from ATC Innovation Lab. Eva presented the HUMANE Roadmaps and how they help us to think about the future of human-machine networks. Then we had Grant Miller from Zooniverse to talk about Zooniverse: Humans, Machines, and Penguins; the title tells it all! And finally, just before the coffee break, I presented our work on the edit wars between humans and between bots on Wikipedia.

The last part of the day started with a talk by Brian Pickering, also from IT Innovation Centre. Brian’s talk titled Decision Support for Crowd Management was about the eVACUATE project and how the HUMANE typology and method help us to understand and design better crowd management systems.

Last but not least, Gina Neff, also from the Oxford Internet Institute, presented the other keynote talk of the day titled Making Sense of Self-Tracking Data: Possible futures of the Human-Machine Relationship. Gina introduced self-tracking data as the result of human and machine relationship and then discussed some important aspects of this co-produced outcome: Affordances, Valences, and Symbiotic Agency in relation to the self-tracking data.

Paul Walland (IT Innovation) had the job to summarize the day at the end of the workshop. He not only did this very well, but also sent me a note as a contribution to this wrap-up post. See Paul’s note below, but before that, let me thank all the presenters and the participants again for their contribution to the success of our workshop.

 

Paul Walland:

There was a huge range of very interesting stuff presented at the workshop, and it would be both impossible and unfair to try to summarise it all, so I’m not going to do that. What I will do is bring the discussion back to the core objective of the HUMANE project, and think about roadmaps – there are two that occur to me.

One is the technology roadmap – we must not forget that technology is continually advancing, and therefore what people can do with the technology is developing as well. In parallel with this, we have an evolution in what people are trying to do and achieve within networks, which can lead to human capacity increasing, as machines take on the roles that machines do better than people. This is the symbiotic increase in agency that Gina described, reflecting the aspects of agency that introduced in the HUMANE presentations from Vegard and Brian.

The increase in agency – that is the capacity of the machines in the network to take on new roles that might have been the role of a human in the past – liberates the human in the network to focus on achieving their goals without being concerned about the actions the technology is taking to support them. I used to drive rather old MG motor cars. That is to say, I used to spend 90 percent of my time trying to get the motor car to work, and 10 percent of my time coaxing it to get me to where I wanted to go. Now I have a motor car that just works – I don’t need to think about what is going on under the bonnet:- I just get in and drive myself to my destination. But technology continues to advance, and in a few years’ time I won’t need to sit behind a steering wheel and make sure that the motor car follows the road and arrives at a destination, I will simply tell the car where I want to get to and allow it – trust it – to get me where I want to go. My goal hasn’t changed, but the agency, the role taken by the machine, has changed, and in consequence my behaviour has changed to take advantage of the ability to do what I want to do without having to manage or direct the technology that helps me get there.

I am a physicist by background, and my first experience of networks was in the mechanics of how networks are physically assembled and how they transported data. Over the years I have become increasingly interested in the human aspect of networks, since the ultimate goal of technology is to help people achieve their objectives by giving them access to capabilities they do not have without the support of the machines. The two things go hand in hand.

As we have heard from the speakers, serendipitous actions and events can lead to new insights or the emergence of new behaviours. This does not come from machines replacing humans, it comes from humans doing what they do well, and machines doing the things, whether that is fast reaction or massive data crunching, that they can do and humans cannot. It is this cross-cutting of technology and social behaviour/human behaviour that is so interesting and so fruitful. The HUMANE roadmap embraces this interconnectivity of human ambition and machine capability, and I for one am very much looking forward to seeing where it leads.

So I would like to express my thanks to OII and the HUMANE consortium for putting together this fascinating day, and thank all the presenters who have done such a great job of keeping us both entertained and informed.